March 19 - Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's first post-FOMC press conference shocked investors as she hints the Fed's first rate hike could come early in 2015. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Remember that 6-1/2 percent jobless benchmark - forget about it! In Janet Yellen's first meeting as Fed chair, policymakers decided the jobless rate alone is no longer enough to signal when the Fed will begin hiking interest rates. But it's Yellen's startling comments in the press conference as to how soon rates could rise after bond purchases cease that knocked Wall Street off its feet. SOUNDBITE: FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIR JANET YELLEN (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The language that we use in this statement is considerable period, so this is the kind of term it's hard to define but probably means something along the order of around six months or that type of thing. But you know it depends. What the statement is saying, as the statement is saying, it depends on what conditions are like. We need to see where the labor market is, how close are we to our full-employment goal. That would be a complicated assessment, not just based on a single statistic and how rapidly we are moving toward it. Are we moving close and moving fast or are we getting closer but moving slowly." But the number of policy makers expecting rates to begin moving higher next year is on the rise - hitting 13 at this meeting compared to 12 at the meeting in December. However, the Fed's economic growth projections for the next two years have changed little, suggesting the Fed doesn't expect inflation to ramp up to a level that would require a spike in interest rates any time soon. SOUNDBITE: FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIR JANET YELLEN (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The committee is mindful that inflation running persistently below its objective could pose risks to economic performance. The committee also recognizes, however, that policy actions tend to exert pressure on inflation that is manifest only gradually over time. The FOMC will continue assessing incoming data carefully to ensure policy is consistent with attaining the FOMC's longer run objectives of maximum employment and inflation of two percent." Despite that assurance, markets interpreted Janet Yellen's first run out of the gate one way. Anthony Valeri of LPL Financial: SOUNDBITE: ANTHONY VALERI, SENIOR VP OF FIXED INCOME RESEARCH, LPL FINANCIAL (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I think it was a slightly, in terms of bonds, it was a slightly more negative interpretation. It basically reiterated the fact that the Fed's on pace to remove accommodative policy and that eventually they are going to raise interest rates. I think one of the most negative aspects of today's Fed meeting was that the Fed increased the timing or the amount of rate hikes that we're going to see and pushed them forward." Yellen says the new guidance is all part of the Fed's plan to provide more information, but judging from the market's confusion - this info may be too much for the market to bear.